I enjoy historical fiction novels but need there to be a good story, not just a telling of historical facts. This novel, by Carolyn Hughes, sets the scene beautifully, helping the reader relate to the characters.
It’s 1349. The Black Death has halved the population of Meonbridge so the ‘cast’ of this story are the family members left behind, forced to adapt to the broken world they now live in.
The village adjusts to the new order of things. Eleanor, in her late teens, without parents and her fourteen year old step brother her only surviving kin, decides to expand her sheep onto more of her land with the help of her shepherd. The cottars, tenants without land of their own, are getting wise to their worth, demanding more money to farm Sir Richard’s land while Alice, mourning the loss of her husband and eldest son is left to guide her youngest sons, while hoping her only daughter Agnes will return safely after disappearing before the plague made leaving the village ill advisable.
It’s a sad but gripping beginning to the book. There are a host of characters, the whole village it seems, but imagining them at the time in the setting described makes it easy to remember them. There are plenty of wise, strong women in this book, finding themselves in traditionally male roles, out of necessity.
I enjoyed this book, packed full of historical facts and set during a period in British history where a third of the population was lost to the plague. Having played the lead role in Isolation at Eyam at school, I knew a little of the history but I’ve enjoyed learning more through this novel.